Alicia Keys has built a strong presence around herself throughout her career. With that power, her sixth album HERE has a strong message it tries to convey.
Alicia's the queen of R&B as it stands. Her voice has a perfect balance of smoothness and grit that she uses to cover a lot of ground vocally. The album begins in a way such that her diversity and message is made clear. She takes things back down to the south with 'This Gospel,' setting a regional tone for the record. The song starts softly before quickly building up confidently with the same flow you'd find from Hamilton. The gospel moments on the track don't feel like enough to suggest the title be dedicated to them, but they're there in the bridge. New Orleans jazz is channeled in 'Pawn It All,' the groovy instrumental carrying it through.
'Illusion Of Bliss' is the bridge between pop and culture on the record. Right at the core of the record, the song is sandwiched between the bayou-inspired section and the poppier side, and contains elements of both. The song features a bluesy vibe that you'd hear at a late night club somewhere in New Orleans. The organs funkily vibe underneath Keys' almost tortured vocals and the male background vocals. It's a slowburner, the slow and spacious drum beat carrying the song through its torture. The beat dies out by the end of the song as a clean and pretty bassline and pounding pianos carry the track under Keys' cries of "Don't say I'm gone / I don't want to be a fallen angel."
The acoustic moments provide some rawness on the record. One of these tracks is 'Kill Your Mama' which is solely acoustic. Keys sings powerfully atop a lo-fi acoustic guitar which rings out with raw, folky vibes. 'Blended Family (What You Do For Love)' beings acoustically, but eventually progresses into a poppier track, the likes of A$AP Rocky contributing a verse to the track. The acoustic guitar leads into Keys cleaner voice, bass and a pop beat kicking in to drive the track sweetly as she sings about love having no boundaries.
The album's highs are great, but unfortunately they are overshadowed by lows. The worst part of the record are that more than a quarter of its tracks are short, boring, and just plain cringey interludes. The first track, 'The Beginning,' sounds incredibly pretentious and when 'Elaine Brown,' the second interlude to appear, kicks in, you've already had enough. Much of the second half of the record is just plain boring and unmemorable. The first half feels much more inspired and like it has something to say. The other half is just regularly performed pop songs with no merit to them to maintain interest. There are some questionable moments on plenty of tracks, too: the xylophone solo in 'She Don't Really Care_1 Luv' is cool, but the male vocals are pretty weird, dragging the song down a bit.
Alicia Keys made a pretty big statement... for half of a record. HERE is grounded in her roots to start but eventually devolves into a mess of uninspired pop tracks that try to imitate what the start of the album had. It felt like a big risk but ultimately took the safe route. Keys is at the point of her career where she really can do whatever she wants - the pop side of the album was fully unnecessary and brought the quality far, far down. Without risk, there isn't any reward - HERE hit the sad 50/50.
Favorite Tracks: Illusion Of Bliss, Kill Your Mama, Blended Family (What You Do For Love)
Least Favorite Tracks: Interludes, Work On It, Girl Can't Be Herself
Rating: 50 / 100